Friday, January 30, 2009

I Hate Texting ... and You Should, Too (Friday Roundup)

First, some background ... One of my daughter's friends sat beside me at the pool near the end of the summer, moving his thumbs at rapid-fire pace over a phone keypad and seemingly so obsessed with texting that when I snatched it out of his hands, his thumbs kept moving.
Stupid opposable thumbs.
"Hey, what are you doing?" His eyes popped, and his mouth sat wide open.
"I am taking this away from you. Go swim. Go talk to a person. Go communicate with someone."
"That's what I was doing!"
"OK, Mr. Smarty Pants. Who were you communicating with?"
"My cousin."
"What were you and your cousin communicating about?"
"I told her I think we'll have the same math book this year."
"Oh, for heaven's sake. Go swim." And I turned back to my magazine.
"But what about my phone?"
"You'll get it back when your mom comes to pick you up. And if you try to sneak it out of this pool bag, I assure you I'll get it back, and I can hit the pool with it from here."
He looked at my daughter and asked, "Is she serious?"
"I wouldn't test her."
And off he went, thumbs twitching and eyes darting. I'm fairly certain he was suffering DTs. Tough love is a tough thing.

Second, how I really feel ... Texting is a practice that we have strictly forbidden, slapping our oldest child with a $1 fine for every incoming and outgoing text message. "But Amy, that's how kids COMMUNICATE with each other." I don't really want to hear your excuses. No texting on my watch, I say. It's wormy. And I hate it. We have telephones, stamps and envelopes. We even have opportunities for face-to-face conversations. Texting makes teenagers uncomfortably bold, and it ultimately causes their eyes to roll out of their heads and their thumbs to fall off. You'll see.

Now, to the story at hand ...
On Thursday morning, I turned on my cell phone, that device that I sometimes still refer to as a "car phone." That it was in the house, on the kitchen counter, at all was strange—I keep it in the car, WHERE IT BELONGS. Minutes after I turned it on, it made a strange sing-song noise, like an alert. I looked, and a little notepad icon popped up, with "text message (1)" on the screen. I have received no more than five messages during my time as a cell phone user. Outside of those five, I do receive a monthly text from TMobile, thanking me for the bill someone just paid online.

Still, I clicked "view." And this is what it said. "Can you come check me out?" A sick teen-ager, so congested and in a feverish state, had committed, what I see as, the ultimate social crime: she texted. WHILE IN SCHOOL.

She was sick, and I blame her fall from the wagon on a high fever and/or insufferable congestion. I held the phone in my hand, wondering how I could respond. I can't call, I thought, because she is in class. All she needs is a short answer—a "yes" or a "no." The answer will be, of course, "yes," but I don't know how to get to the "y." How about "OK"? Only two letters, and one of them can be a zero, I would guess. If I can figure out how to get "O" and "K" on the screen, then maybe this phone will walk me through the "send" portion of this process. Baby steps, I thought.

If someone had been watching me, I imagine it was much like watching my mother program a VCR, or use a remote. Such things can be, at once, frustrating and sad.

The phone sensed my ignorance and let the "O" fly readily. Wow! This was going to be a cake walk! Now, for the "K." The "K" sits between the "J" and the "L," just like in the alphabet. Cake walk, over. If I sent "OJ" to her, would she know what that meant? Would she know that help was on its way? I didn't want to chance it, so I manipulated keys and arrows until a lowercase "k" popped up. An abusive mix of upper and lowercase letters is not my style, but I had to let it go. I pressed "options," and I was on my way to sending my first-ever text.

Fast forward. I arrive at the school, approach the check-in/check-out window and plead my case. Do I tell this woman that my daughter texted me? Do I admit that she has a phone on campus? Will she be suspended for texting during class? How old AM I? Kids update their stupid Facebook pages in the middle of World History ("I'm in World History," "I hate World History," "I am drinking bottled water in World History"), so maybe a plea for help from a feverish child falls within the realm of "school doesn't hold fast to cell phone usage policies."

All I get is a nod and a click-click-click on the keyboard, and "sign this." I sign, the attendance person intercoms the teacher, my daughter shows up three minutes later, lacking color and walking like Meryl Streep in Silkwood. "I texted you, and all you wrote back was 'OK'." Sniff, sniff.
"'OK' was all you needed to know. I'm here, aren't I?"
"Yes, but you could have said when you would be here, or 'what's wrong', or something."
"Sure, IF I KNEW HOW TO TEXT. 'OK' took me 15 minutes. If you had waited for the long version, you might have fallen over dead from a fever, and I would be in the crazy house."
"So I saw Ryan [editor's note: HER BOYFRIEND] in the hallway and told him I texted you, and he ..."
"Look, I AM HERE. YOU ARE GOING HOME. IT'S OK. Just like I texted you. It's 'OK.'"
She goes to her locker, walks to her car and drives home. I get in my car, and I hear the same ominous sing-song from my phone. What? Another text message? What is this? The end of the world? I click "view." And it reads, "So, are you going to pick up Anna?" The text is from RYAN.

How am I supposed to answer this? "OK" wouldn't answer the question; it wouldn't even make sense. "I did" seemed the shortest route to putting a stop to this nonsense. And why is he checking in on me anyway? I think I'm the adult in this relationship. I drove to the Zaxby's parking lot and pondered my next step. I navigated the keypad and figured out how to eke out the "I," which you may know sits at the end of the three-letter sequence, "GHI." Then there was the matter of the space. How do you insert a space between "I" and "DID"? There's no space bar. Yet I found it. I don't remember what it was, but I found it. Then, the "D." Another "I." The final "D." And it looked like this: I DiD. It wasn't pretty, but I got my point across. Would Ryan take this as a terse response? Did it sound like a short, quick-tempered, you're-annoying-me answer? I certainly didn't intend it to be that way, but by this point, I didn't really care. I pressed "send."

Within seconds, another sing-song. My screen read the following message from Ryan: "Awesome." Or, something more like "aWEsOmE." Blccchh.

No, this is not "awesome." I believe I have pointed out that the overuse of the word "awesome" has diminished the word's meaning to nothing more than a trite adjective that describes a sandwich, a party or maybe a song.

But what truly IS awesome, Mr. Ryan, is that I sent two text messages in one day and didn't suffer a nervous breakdown and that I didn't toss my cell phone out the window of my moving car. I am sure, however, that if this texting business had continued throughout the afternoon, my eyes would certainly have rolled out of my head and my thumbs would have fallen off.

Today is so very Friday. May yours be a delightful and text-free two days.